Rugby World Cup: Andy Farrell’s mini tutorial on the art of tackling safely
Red cards have been a dominant theme at tournament with five shown already in Japan
Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell speaks to the media at the Grand Hyatt Fukuoka. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
It started out as a relatively standard press conference. Ireland have, supposedly, a full squad to select from and need to go full tilt at Samoa in their Pool A finale next Saturday, maintained Andy Farrell. Whereupon, Ireland’s defence coach provided a mini tutorial on the techniques involved in safe tackling.
As was feared or expected all along, red cards have become a dominant theme at this tournament, the tally of five already eclipsing the 1999 and 1995 World Cups. Four red cards were brandished in those two tournaments, but just two were handed out in 1987, 1991, 2007, and 2011, one in 2015, and none in 2003.
This does not best please Farrell.
“No, I don’t like seeing anyone get a red card. I feel really sorry for them. I’ve grown up watching all sorts of World Cups and any type of major event, somebody that ends up with devastation where they’re out of any competition they’re in, I think it’s sad to see.
“Everyone is aware of the ramifications of getting something wrong. Are you in control of that all the time? Not really because rugby is an instinctive game.”
While it has been too high a price in his eyes, Farrell believes passionately in the art of tackling safely.
“Chris Farrell got a bang with an elbow in his head and came off with an HIA,” Farrell gave as an example. “His head was to the side and when your head is to the side or your head is down you’re not able to see exactly what’s in front of you at the moment that matters and then you’re not able to be in control of what happens to you at that stage.”
Tackling, said Farrell, was about decision-making.
“The funny thing is, what people don’t realise and I’ll share it with you guys because it is important to get it out there, but it’s super-important to almost lead with your head.
“Let me explain with that, because you need to get your head through. If you don’t get your head through and square and your head’s not up, if you put it to the side and all of a sudden you start doing these ones (Farrell turns his head sidewards while extending his arms and hands forward) can you see how now my shoulder comes off?
“If I lead with my head and get it through then my head’s out of the way and that’s what we need to be coaching kids, 100 per cent. I align it to skiing when you go over the top on a ski slope. When you first start skiing or you’re trying to teach a kid how to ski, the hardest thing to do is say, ‘no, you’ve got to lean forward’. You’ve got to lean forward because all your control is at the front. That’s how you shift around and that’s how you brake but it takes courage to do that.
“Proper technique, in my opinion, to make sure we’re looking after players, is making sure that we get the head through and not to the side because if it’s to the side you’re vulnerable.
“For example, if somebody’s a metre in front of me and I put my head down, then if he moves slightly I’m not in charge of what happens to my head whatsoever.
“That’s how you shift around and that’s how you break but it takes proper courage to do that.”
Farrell went on to demonstrate other examples of a tackler keeping his eyes focused on the ball-carrier almost to the point of contact, so as to read any last-ditch step or sway.
“I think kids need to be taught constantly of being comfortable with what proper technique is. It certainly isn’t throwing kids in there with their heads down and then getting kicked on the head and going ‘I don’t know about this game’. Proper technique. It’s like anything, when you hit a golf ball sweet in the middle, you go ‘wow that was fantastic’, when you get a tackle right it’s because you’ve got your head through and a square shoulder. You’ve not tackled with your arm and you get good contact and it feels right. It doesn’t hurt.”
Ireland’s defence has been one of the more positive aspects of their performances at this tournament, only conceding 22 points and one try, although Farrell countered: “Well, I would certainly take 100 shipped points and three wins. Points don’t mean much really.
“I have said to you guys before as well about the number of the tries. We have had one scored against us; am I happy with that? I think our performances can be better and hopefully they will be better when it matters.”
Certain aspects of Ireland’s defence have been strong, according to Farrell, namely their physicality and “asking questions of the opposition. There have been certain aspects of that, that have been below those standards as well.”
Any notion that Ireland might rest up front-liners in readiness for a potential quarter-final were emphatically dismissed by Ireland’s incoming head coach.
“It’s definitely not an option. No, this game is super important to us. We’re fully in. We’re after the best performance of the competition. It was a pretty good one against Scotland and there’s been a bit of a lull since then. We’re trying to hit those highs again.
“It’s not easy, doing that, because Samoa are a good side. They’re a big, physical side - we know what’s coming our way. But it’s not just that - we’ve got to respect the game for what it should be - it’s a massive game for Ireland, for the players and for everyone in the group.”